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Nailing World Domination: An Exclusive Interview With FREDERIK LARSSON Of HAMMERFALL

By Andrew Depedro, Ottawa Corespondent
Thursday, October 29, 2020 @ 12:04 AM


"I’m not that big into live recordings, actually, because I wanna be there in the audience, and watch it by myself. I don’t want to record it with my phone or anything."

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They were making Sweden rock throughout much of 2019 before they were also rocked by something even more powerful than either Sweden or themselves – COVID-19, having nailed the 2020 touring season shut for the entire industry. Nevertheless, Swedish metallers and esteemed handymen HAMMERFALL remained as busy as they could for a brief couple of months in constructing the base of their currently-postponed world tour in promoting both last year’s Dominion album as well as celebrating 20 years of their breakthrough album Renegade, compiling the band’s most recent performance at the MHP Arena in Ludwigsburg, Germany on February 15 and building momentum on their 20+ year career with a live album of the event titled Live! Against The World. Yours truly finds the time to chat with bassist Fredrik Larsson about the album, live albums in general, last year’s Halloween Ball which saw the band play in my hometown of Ottawa for the first time and the proverbial sporting bond between Sweden and Canada: curling and hockey! Absolutely worth upgrading my Skype account for the first time in nearly a decade. Glory to the brave indeed!

KNAC.COM: First off, I want to say a hearty congratulation on the 20th anniversary of Renegade, which you were in the process of honoring during your recent European tour before COVID-19 hit.

LARSSON: It was a long time, but it was actually done before I was in HAMMERFALL…I was in the band in ’97 as an original member on the first album Glory To The Brave. Then I left, I stayed away for ten years, and then I came back in 2007 again.

KNAC.COM: At around the time that your landmark album Renegade had come out 20 years ago, the music industry was in almost as much of a identity crisis as it is now though at the time, with not only the industry having pushed so many musical trends it couldn’t keep up with, but also with most music fans appearing to be fighting back against the industry itself, ranging from the ascent of online stations such as KNAC.COM to file sharing programs such as Napster suddenly popping up, gradually paving the way for many streaming sites such as Spotify to thrive. I know that you hadn’t been in the band at the time, but did you or anyone in the band at the time envision the longevity of Renegade to have been as prevalent now as it was back then?

LARSSON: I’m not sure…it’s a great album, but it’s also an album of its time, I’m sure….although we play 80’s heavy metal in the beginning, I think also that it’s evolved a bit, especially sound-wise, everything sounds different today than what it used to, but I guess it would’ve been harder for an album like Renegade to get that big nowadays. That’s just my personal feeling from it.

KNAC.COM: Fair enough, because at the time for me when that album did come out, there was such a general confusion as to the identity of the industry itself, at least in North America anyway, in that the biggest song forms in music would be either nu-metal, or diva pop or even the boyband explosion, so I would think that at the time for Renegade, it must’ve been tough for that album to try to compete against these three particularly dominant musical genres, but you did manage to persevere.

LARSSON: It’s the same with the Glory To The Brave album. It came at the right time. People were fed up with a lot of the grunge movement or whatever. They wanted some melody, they wanted something that reminded them of what they grew up with – the 80’s heavy metal thing. So, I think that album came out at really the right time for it to be as really big as it got, and probably the same with the Renegade album. It was the right time for that album to get out and show people what HAMMERFALL was.

KNAC.COM: I would have to say at the time that HAMMERFALL were one of the up-and-coming but also one of the fastest-selling bands coming out of Sweden, because Sweden at the time also had its own different types of musical genres, because you had the Gothenburg…

LARSSON: The Gothenburg sound?

KNAC.COM: Yeah – the Gothenburg sound, which, even though you weren’t really a part of it – you weren’t a part of the sound but you were part of the scene.

LARSSON: Yes – the scene and the society around it. Of course. The whole Gothenburg sound thing was, I mean, we were friends with them who made the Gothenburg sound – IN FLAMES, DARK TRANQUILLITY, AT THE GATES. Everybody was involved and came to the same shows and everybody knew about everybody. I mean, Gothenburg’s not that big of a city, so we were definitely a part of the community.

KNAC.COM: For sure. I mean, you had the drummer from PAIN, I believe, and also a member of the POODLES who joined HAMMERFALL at one point who were replacing different members, because I know that at one point yourself, you also had to take another leave of absence from the band because of parenting.

LARSSON: We had some members of the band, but it’s been this set-up for quite some time now, and it’s not unusual for friends to part. A lot of bands have had members coming in and out. I think we have a really good foundation nowadays.

KNAC.COM: It definitely helps to build up your network, because even though if some of the members had to take time out because of family commitments and whatnot, eventually they might want to ponder a return to the band, and of course, you guys would be more than accommodating letting them back because they’re familiar with the material.

LARSSON: Yes, that’s true! *laughs*

KNAC.COM: They’ll be able to ease back in without any trouble. They’d probably take less time than in having to recruit an unknown member who’s not that familiar with the sound. That would be my guess. *laughs*

LARSSON: It’s good to have a lot of friends! *laughs*

KNAC.COM: That’s for sure! Moving on, as you’d previously mentioned, at around the same time that COVID-19 hit, you were in the middle of your European tour for both the celebration of Renegade’s 20th anniversary and the continued promotion for your most recent studio album Dominion. Was the writing/recording process different that time around for Dominion compared to previous HAMMERFALL albums?

LARSSON: I think Dominion is a really strong record. We had some great success with it on the charts all over the world actually, and it’s so fun to be out with a strong record if there are so many good songs on it that you want to play live. It feels like the song really fits in the set. People seem to really like and enjoy when we play them, and the reaction we get is what the audience gets back, so to speak. So, it’s always great to incorporate new songs, and it feels like it’s…it really fits well into the set.

KNAC.COM: I remember actually seeing your show last year when you did the Halloween Ball in Ottawa. It was actually in between some of these shows that you were doing. I think you were touring with SABATON at the time, but SABATON weren’t booked for any Ottawa shows unfortunately, so it would’ve been great to have seen both bands. I guess you had like a day off in between, and I think it was from…I think it was Christina from CHORD Productions and she was able to get you to play at Mavericks.

LARSSON: Oh, yes!

KNAC.COM: I also remember that show because a host of my friends in other bands such as SPECTER, LYCANTHRO, INFRARED…there were a whole bunch of local bands that, for them, it was actually the best opportunity for them to actually play with the legends of power metal, a.k.a., yourselves. *laughs* What did you think of that show?

LARSSON: I remember that it was a pretty good show. When we were touring with SABATON, they had a lot of day offs, and we like to keep on going. Since we were starting for SABATON, we couldn’t really play that long, so we had a lot more energy to get out, so it was better for us to promote ourselves and do shows in between – and most of them turned out really good, I think. Of course, it was small places somewhere. Mavericks, I think, was a good show. Can’t remember it being a bad one. *laughs*

KNAC.COM: I remember hanging out with you guys at the Coven before the show had started. *laughs* I think it was the owner who’d directed me towards you guys. I will have to say that you guys have a good reputation of being able to hang with the fans. Has there ever been any type of particular experience in which you’ve hung out with a fan and, I guess their energy from having meeting you rubbed off on the band?

LARSSON: We usually don’t hang out that much before the show starts, but sometimes, we’re out all day doing stuff and trying to have fun, so, of course we meet a couple of fans here and there, and sometimes, we can take a beer and have some dinner somewhere with fans and stuff, so, it’s always nice to meet people and, that, of course, gives you some energy. I remember in Europe somewhere, we were out having a barbecue before a show. *laughs*

KNAC.COM: *laughs*

LARSSON: It happens! *laughs* It’s not that often that it happens, but, it happens!

KNAC.COM: The HAMMERFALL Barbecue! *laughs*

LARSSON: *laughs*

KNAC.COM: That’d be cool to have some off-events like that. The Halloween Ball that was set up at the time in Ottawa…it was a bit more spontaneous. I mean, it was obviously in the works but it was also like a bit of a testing ground just to see how many people showed up and luckily, for everyone, it worked, so can’t fault it for that.

LARSSON: Yes.

KNAC.COM: So, another question I have is that I’d noticed that on Dominion there was more of a celebratory vibe musically-speaking on the album, particularly with the lead-off single “(We Make) Sweden Rock”, which was a tribute to your many musical influences such as JUDAS PRIEST and YNGWIE MALMSTEEN and to the power metal genre in general – and if I recall, it was originally used as the anthem for the Swedish women’s curling team too. Is that correct? What was the story behind that collaboration?

LARSSON: Oh, that’s not correct. The “(We Make) Sweden Rock” song was a tribute to all of the bands in Sweden and all of the bands that we grew up with, especially Joacim and Oskar. They love to listen to all of the old Swedish bands. So, that was the tribute to Sweden and the Swedish bands – our way to say “thank you”. And the curling team…that would probably be, if I recall….wouldn’t that have been “Hearts On Fire”?

KNAC.COM: That’s the one! That’s probably how I got them mixed up. So they probably did just go with “Hearts On Fire” – but I remember hearing a rumor that they were going to be both songs but now we’re clear that “(We Make) Sweden Rock” wouldn’t be the anthem, seeing as the topic matter there would make more sense that it wouldn’t be all that appropriate. *laughs*

LARSSON: I get it. *laughs*

KNAC.COM: Although, when you think about it, the sport does kinda use a rock! *laughs*

LARSSON: Yes! *laughs* They throw rocks, so it probably would’ve made a great song for the curling team! *laughs*

KNAC.COM: I remember one time when I was chatting with John Bush from ARMORED SAINT and we were talking about the song “Win Hands Down” and I’d suggested that it would make a perfect type of anthem to be played at sports events.

LARSSON: Yeah?

KNAC.COM: And I think he was fine with me saying that if I ever pass that idea up to the Ottawa Senators – our hockey team in the nation’s capital – they would probably go with it. I don’t think they ever did.

LARSSON: That’s a shame.

KNAC.COM: Have you ever considered marketing any of your other songs to any type of sporting groups?

LARSSON: Yeah. We’re all kinda big sports fans, especially Oskar and Joacim. They watch a lot of sports, so it’s always fun to be on tour, watching hockey tournaments or whatever. We sponsor a Swedish hockey team – Mora IK. It’s the hometown of Joacim and it actually says on the rink HAMMERFALL on the side.

KNAC.COM: Cool. I’ll have to look that up.

LARSSON: Actually yes, they did use one of our songs...ah! It slipped my mind!

KNAC.COM: It’s all good. Actually, another question I wanted to ask you was what was one of the more memorable HAMMERFALL albums that you recall doing, if not one of the most challenging?

LARSSON: Wow….I must say the first one, Glory To The Brave, was the one that we really remember. I think it was my second time in the studio, so it was kinda different having a producer….he wasn’t really a producer at the time because he didn’t tell us what to play or what to do, but he tried to bring the best out of us, and it was the first time for me sitting there and doing a proper recording. So, that was the most memorable from my own point of view. We had all those old tape recorders, and it was kind of a mess, with mixing, you had to do everything by hand with sliders…

KNAC.COM: Oh, geez! *laughs*

LARSSON: In real time, to mix a whole song, it was a song-by-song thing, so it was really nice to be, to have done that. Nowadays, you just put on a track and it’s a computer and do it as many times as you want and just redo it and mix it and everything. So, it’s different nowadays.

KNAC.COM: There are some bands in some cases, they can delay an album up to a year or two even though they have the proper recording equipment – albeit in some cases, maybe just a computer – but sometimes they’ll try to get the mix just so perfect to a certain degree.

LARSSON: Yeah.

KNAC.COM: To almost a fault, and it ends up just delaying the album for another month or another year, that sort of thing. Has that ever been an issue whenever HAMMERFALL are in the studio?

LARSSON: No, we always have a deadline. Of course, when something happens, you get a delay, but we always have a deadline. It’s kind of tight, because we don’t want to be there. You can sit forever and listen to stuff and in the end, I don’t think it will get better. I mean, it just gets different in some ways, so you have to keep the energy for recording. It doesn’t have to be perfect as long as you have the energy right which is what we want to capture.

KNAC.COM: Oh, definitely.

LARSSON: Same thing with a live recording that we did. The Live! Against The World album.

KNAC.COM: Yes.

LARSSON: That gets released on the 23rd of October. We didn’t go in and fix things. It’s a mix of the singing and the attitude and we’re slightly off in the time, and it doesn’t matter. You can hear it in the recording that it’s live, and it’s live with a real audience. The goal was to catch the energy, and I think that we did it really good.

KNAC.COM: I’m sure it did. I mean, I remember the theory behind how when KISS’ 1975 album Alive! had come out – I mean, I was too young to appreciate it – but I remember that the album had to be retouched again in the studio because there had been so many sound gaps and, I guess, some wrong-sounding chords somewhere in between. I mean, it’s kinda hard, I guess, when you’re in a band like KISS, for example, and if you’re playing, and when they’re trying to sync up when they’re going to be singing, when they’re going to be doing the solos, it doesn’t always come out the way that it’s supposed to be.

LARSSON: Ah, yes.

KNAC.COM: And when that album came out, people were raving about the sound production and everything, but what they didn’t know was that they had to bring it back to the studio. It’s like “KISS don’t always sound like that”, y’know? It sounded a bit too raw. *laughs*

LARSSON: *laughs* KNAC.COM: And, if anything, maybe a bit too amateurish too, I guess, by comparison. *laughs* But the thing is, it’s only them. But it’s good that an album such as Live! Against The World, for all its faults, it’ll still be an album that’ll capture the essence of the performance. So, in terms of live albums, what was your favorite live album growing up? Like, what live albums in particular inspired you to pursue music?

LARSSON: I usually listen to a lot of IRON MAIDEN, Live After Death. I listened to On Stage by RAINBOW. There are a couple of good ones, but I’m not that big into live recordings, actually, because I wanna be there in the audience, and watch it by myself. I don’t want to record it with my phone or anything. I don’t want to hear it afterwards because I want to be there and enjoy the moment right there, right now. So, there’s a couple of classics, of course, but also not too big of a fan as live recordings go.

KNAC.COM: Those are definitely two top live albums for sure.

LARSSON: Actually, the album I like that I’ve been listening to lately is Live In Japan by DEEP PURPLE. I’ve rediscovered how good that was. I haven’t really listened to it back then but I listened to it – I think it was on this latest tour, actually, that I’ve been listening to it for the first time. The whole album.

KNAC.COM: You ever listened to Concerto For Group And Orchestra? It was actually one of their most complex albums but they were one of the first bands, I think at the time, to ever use a national orchestra for the recording of the album, if I’m not mistaken. I think them, and probably PROCOL HARUM, I think, were actually the first and DEEP PURPLE were kinda like the second, but they weren’t too far apart at the time when they came up with the concept. Has that always been an idea for HAMMERFALL to try something like that?

LARSSON: Uhhhh…not really. Not the whole show. We did have some folk musicians with us on tour to perform a couple of songs together and they accompanied us for a couple of songs, but not the whole show. We’re still 80’s heavy metal, and it’s supposed to sound that way. *laughs*

KNAC.COM: I think after bands like MANOWAR and METALLICA had tried it anyway, it’s a bit hard to really try and push it as original. Sometimes it’s better not to really mess with the plan or mess with the concept and just carry on with what you’re doing, is kind of my take.

LARSSON: After METALLICA did it, there were a lot of people who were trying the same thing, but it was not for everybody. Just adding some strings and stuff to it didn’t bring out that much.

KNAC.COM: One last question before we part: I know that your Fall touring plans are kinda scuppered at least for this year, but are there any plans for the HAMMERFALL/SABATON tour to maybe continue again into 2021? I know that you were on tour at the time with SABATON and you were also honoring the 20th anniversary of Renegade, which ended up being the basis for the Live! Against The World live album. Are there any plans to continue with that next year?

LARSSON: It’s kinda hard to plan anything right now. We have this release coming out and the next thing we have planned for is somewhere in April, but it’s nothing that is confirmed, so we can just sit around and wait and hope for the best. I really hope that the tour cycle for Dominion is not over yet, so hopefully there will be some more shows and all of the festivals that we were supposed to do this summer and most of them have been postponed, so hopefully we will do them next year, but you never know what’s happening.

KNAC.COM: I hope so too.


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